The Oregon Duck baseball team opened the season in Hawaii.
Sadly, I am not on the trip.
I am still really really excited about the 2013 edition of the Oregon Ducks. This is season five, you know. The first four have been pretty fun. The Ducks went from ending their first season on a 13 game losing streak (and 19 losses out of their last 20) to coming within one run of a trip Omaha last season.
An interesting point on that giant leap: in 2009, when opposing coaches were asked about the unlikely story of George Horton taking over the new program, several said he would have Oregon in Omaha in five years. Horton has one more season to prove them right and almost did it in four.
With experience throughout the lineup and the taste of that loss to K*** State still fresh in their memories (I still can’t bring myself to write their name here) this could be a big, BIG year for the Ducks.
Rather than breaking down the team like a scout or coach, I thought I would look back over the first four years of the program and bring you some of my best memories. In the meantime, I will be working the Loyola Marymount series Feb 22-24 and going with the team to Cal State Fullerton. Hope you catch a game on the radio!
Best Moment (on the air):
Tyler Anderson’s swan song. The first game of the final series of the season in 2011. Oregon was scrambling for a place in the NCAA Regionals. They HAD to have a sweep of OSU. In Anderson’s final collegiate start, he broke his own record by striking out 10 hitters to set the new single season record at Oregon.
Better than that, the Ducks had the game in hand in the 8th when Tyler finally tired. Coach Horton called time and as 3,000+ stood and cheered, coach slowly walked to the mound. Oregon fans sustained the applause for as long as it took Tyler to walk from the mound to the dugout, tip his cap and work his way through a gauntlet of hugs, high fives and fist-bumps from his teammates. Rarely does an athlete go out in such a clearly successful moment. I was waiting for sparks to shower down from the scoreboard. A perfect ending to one of the first and best players of the new era at Oregon.
Also: First win in the Ducks’ first game. 5-3 over St Mary’s; Beating defending College World Series champion Fresno State 1-0 in the first game at PK a few days later. Andrew Schmidt had the game winning RBI to score Eddie Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth; Coach Horton winning his first game back at Cal State Fullerton in 2010; last season’s NCAA Regional clinching win over CS Fullerton and hosting the Super Regional was pretty amazing despite the ending. Ryon Healy’s Game 3 two run single in the 8th sent a packed PK Park into a frenzy and gave Oregon the lead. We could almost see Omaha from Eugene…
Worst Moment (on the air):
That moment when Jerry and I realized (at the same moment, mind you) Jimmy Rider’s pop up behind third was going to fall, allowing Derek Toadvine to score from second to send K*** State to the College World Series. Jerry had the call, but you can hear me utter something like “Oh no!” in the background. I think I swallowed my pencil in that horrible instant. In my mind, that ball is still hanging in the air, hopelessly out of reach. Also: Any game when the Hop Valley chowder is delivered to the booth. We shouldn’t eat it on the air, but it just sits there calling your name. Ventriloquists have nothing on Jerry Allen when he wants to take a bite of food in the middle of a broadcast.
Best Moment (off the air):
Again, back to the first trip. It might have been Thursday, before the first game. It had rained all morning and the field was not available to the team. Rather than taking the whole day off, the Ducks went to an old gymnasium on campus for a workout. I spent most of the time sitting around wondering why I was even there while the players modified their routines for the cramped, muggy, musty gym. I am very glad I was there now, because in the corner, shirtless and covered with sweat, were (then) Jr closer Drew Gagnier and a freshman named Tyler Anderson.
The two were working their way around and across four small orange cones set up in a square on the gym floor. Each side of the square held its own exercise. Anderson and Gagnier hopped, leaped, lunged and hot footed it around and through that square. They were out of sight of scouts and fans, driving each other through that workout. No one was timing them, measuring them or recruiting them. It was two guys grinding out an intense workout for a reward that was yet to come. They had been at it for a long time when I finally noticed them. They stayed after it for a long time after I started watching them. Neither man wanted to be the first to end the workout. Both men wanted to win. They went around and around. It was amazing. From that day forward, I have had nothing but respect for the work ethic of pitchers who really want to make the pros.
What is really cool is Anderson’s work ethic has set the bar for every other pitcher who will ever play at Oregon because it has been passed down to the current staff. Last season Alex Kuedell told me that he and the other starting pitchers never missed a workout and they never worked out alone. When one went to the gym, they all did. Not only did it pay off for Alex, it taught the younger pitchers like Jake Reed what it means to work hard and it created a very tight bond within the staff. That lesson will be passed this year’s freshman and so on. Also: Former Assistant Athletic Director Joe Giansante’s spirited speech to the team before getting off the bus at Cal State Fullerton in 2010; a few days later outside the stadium at Loyola Marymount when coach Horton told the team they were ranked in the top 25 for the first time; serving as emcee at last year’s baseball banquet.
Worst Moment (off the air):
Leaving Arizona State two years ago, the team was in its usual trek to the airport when I realized I had left all three of my team baseball caps in the closet in my hotel room back in Tempe. First, I am not given a key to the equipment room and I treasure every piece of swag I get. The fact that I even had three caps with me the road is unusual. I made a quick call to Luke Emanuel, who was trailing our entourage. He mumbled something under his breath and said he would go back. It turns out Luke also had all of the tickets for the entire group and until he got to the airport, we were all stuck sitting in the ticketing area. Coach Horton got more and more upset as every minute ticked by. No one knew what was taking Luke so long. Finally, I took coach aside and told him that I thought it was my fault. He wasn’t real impressed with me at that moment.
When Luke did get to the group with the tickets, it turned out that the delay had more to do with returning the rental cars. I was off the hook. Mostly.
Best George Horton Moment:
On more time, it happened on the opening trip. I had been looking forward to getting some time with Coach Horton since the moment he came on board. It finally happened as the team bus climbed the hill up to St Mary’s for that first game in 2009. Coach Horton moved back to my seat on the bus and sat down and apologized that it had taken until then for us to get time to chat. I don’t remember exactly what I asked him, but within two questions about baseball, we were suddenly talking about parenting, leadership, developing young men, respect for the game and family. I learned all I needed to know about George Horton the man in that ten minutes. Since then, I have enjoyed getting to know him as a coach, but much more as a father and teacher.
Best Road Trip:
2010 NCAA Regionals in Norwalk, Connecticut. One mile from the Mohegan Sun, two wins over UConn and two one run losses to traditional powerhouse Florida State. Better than that, a taste of just how big this whole baseball thing really is.
Also: SoCal/Hawaii 2010. Eight games, five stadiums, two weeks of baseball. One stop in the first four games was Cal State Fullerton. Seeing how much love the Fullerton fans had for Coach Horton was moving.
Beating the Titans 7-4 added to the significance of the visit to Horton’s old haunts; taking two out of three from #1 UCLA and #22 Stanford in back to back road trips in 2010 announced the arrival of the program to the rest of the Pac-12.
Worst Road Trip:
2010 Hawaii. Really. That was Tsunami Weekend in Waikiki. My wife and three girls came with me. The morning of the earthquake, our cell phones were all buzzing at 6am. Our families were calling from Oregon and Washington wondering if we were going to be safe. My girls were all planning to visit Pearl Harbor that day. Those plans were quickly postponed and a few hours later we evacuated the hotel with the team. While people fought for groceries in local supermarkets and gas stations closed in preparation for the emergency, we all (including my daughters) spent five hours at Les Murakami Stadium killing time and watching coverage on the internet. When Hilo Bay sloshed around for five minutes, we knew it was all for nothing. We played a doubleheader the next day. Btw, my family made it to Pearl Harbor.
The ironic thing about this trip being my worst one is that it was in Hawaii. (I didn’t go to Texas State last season.) That tells you that even when things are bad, they are still awfully good.
Whats Jerry Like? I mean really.
Jerry Allen has become like an older brother to me. I could say like a father or grandfather, but I don’t want to offend him. Just kidding. I do want to offend him.
Jerry would have liked that joke because he is always pulling fast ones on the people around him. He could have been a jerk to me off the air and nice on the air and no one would have ever known. Instead, he has welcomed me to the booth, sharing a piece of HIS spotlight with me.
Do you travel with the team?
Yes. All I have to do is get to PK Park or the Eugene Airport to make the team bus. From there, I am included just like a player or staff member. Another perk. I feel like I am part of the team.
Once in a while I take my family with me. Jannie and my girls went to Hawaii in 2010. My wife and I went to Nashville for the Vanderbilt series last season. I want to brag about Luke Emanuel and the team. They welcomed my wife (mostly) and I to the bus as if we were VIPs. She was impressed with how nice the coaches and players were to her. Proof that the team is listening when Coach Horton preaches about the importance of being polite.
Can I get a pair of those shoes?
Yes. From the Duck Store. I have a lot of shoes from the first four years, but I wear a 9. Luckily most of the people who try to make a deal are bigger than me. Luckily no one has tried to take them by force. I would lose.